• Stephen Whitehead

    Posted in category Opinion by Stephen Whitehead on 19/02/2014

    Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin with the story of pharma

The pharmaceutical industry has a story to tell. But it’s not always a story that’s easy to understand or straightforward. The question is, how do we best tell our story and make sure our patients and stakeholders get to see real pharma?


​In an effort to do just that, the ABPI has developed a new resource – the Delivering value to the UK booklet – to highlight the story of the contribution that industry has made to the health and wealth of the UK, the economy, and the R&D landscape and how this has benefited the NHS and patients.

The story we are telling is about the value of the medicines we make and how they have benefited patients and the NHS. Medicines developed by the pharmaceutical industry have changed a number of acute ‘death sentence’ illnesses such as HIV and AIDS, to manageable chronic conditions. For example, did you know that the life expectancy for a HIV-positive 20 year old has increased from 36 to 49, and the death rate from heart disease and related diseases among the under-75s has fallen by 44% since 2000. All of this is thanks to the improvements made in treatments and medicines. The reality is that, without what the pharmaceutical industry has done, and is doing, the NHS would not exist in its current form. We have made the untreatable treatable, kept people out of hospital and enabled medics to do their jobs more effectively. Arguably, one of the most positive economic impacts which the industry brings is enhancing the sustainability of the NHS because of utilisation of cost effective medicines helping patients recover from illness and return to work, helping the NHS to manage the significant cost associated with short-term or long-term illnesses and permanent disability, and easing the societal costs associated with illnesses.

Like any good story there are always some challenges to overcome. The challenges presented in the ‘Delivering value in the UK’ booklet include the industry’s toughest, such as attracting investment and competing with other economies across the world. There is also the challenge of securing better patient access to medicines at the UK’s snail’s pace in adopting innovative medicines, despite having the lowest priced medicines in Europe.

The part of the story that always surprises people is about the research and development process. It’s a little known fact that it takes over 12 years and costs around £1.15bn to research and develop a single new medicine. This is a vitally important part of the story and can sometimes feel quite far removed from patients. It’s our job to help patients understand the important process of how the medicines they take have got from the lab bench to their bedside. The R&D process is a developing story as we see concepts like stratified medicines gather pace and we get a glimpse into how we will, in the future, completely individualise a person’s healthcare and treatment like never before. As this story is developed so too will our narrative, and I am very much looking forward to writing the next chapter.


Stephen Whitehead
ABPI Chief Executive


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